The W Hollywood won’t let guests use its pool

In what must be a first for a big hotel, the W Hollywood is telling guests they are not permitted to use the rooftop pool.

It seems ludicrous, but it’s true. That’s because Starwood, which owns the combination hotel/residence property at Hollywood and Vine, contracted a slew of hotel services out to third parties. Drai’s, a Las Vegas nightspot promotion outfit, opened on March 17, and was charged with nightlife at the W, too, presumably because the hotel wanted to purchase some off-the-shelf cachet with hipsters rather than earning it through the merits of the product.

I found this out, of course, the worst way a guest can: By staying there, and being denied access to a swim. On a recent 85-degree Sunday, I tried taking the elevator to the rooftop pool (called WET) for some of those famous California rays. After all, my room on the 11th floor was literally thumping with the beats coming through the ceiling, and I wanted to enjoy a little of this party that I had to put up with despite paying $230 a night.

But the 12th-floor button wouldn’t light up. Down in the lobby, I was directed to a line of early 20s hipsters who were waiting to be admitted to the pool deck themselves. I was informed by a doorman that although “the general public” (that would be me: a paying hotel guest) was not permitted upstairs today, I was welcome to join everyone in the line if I wished, or he would “introduce” me to someone inside who “might be able” to get me on the guest list. As I walked away, he called after me, eyeing my clothes. “Don’t forget, sir. Appropriate pool attire.”The hotel’s statement about the arrangement, which amounts to a recap and doesn’t defend its wisdom, follows at the end of this post.

I’m a reporter at heart, though, and undeterred, I skulked up a service elevator with a friend. I paid $10 to bribe a staff member to let us into what Drai’s publicizes as a “sexy poolside affair with House music and Hollywood’s elite.”

Drai’s is dreadful. There wasn’t a spare inch. A DJ blasted beats, pneumatic girls danced laconically as they stood on the cushioned lounge chairs, and shirtless boys in fedoras smoked cigarettes in the pool while they scoped the girls’ bikini bottoms from shin level. My friend glanced around and proclaimed it “a douche-tacular.” Nearby was a big empty table marked “reserved.” We were told we couldn’t be seated there because “it’s the owner’s table.” It was like this all day, from 10am to 10pm, exclusive of guests unless they greased the right palm.

A luxe L.A. hotel without a pool is like a wedding without a cake. A banquet without forks. A pretentious product without a shred of class.

Am I willing to praise a hotel when it does something right? Only too willing. The W has a lively lobby bar, supremely comfortable beds, and the Sanctuary, an octopus-like device that can charge almost anything you have, is a lifesaver. The views of the Capitol Records building and downtown L.A. are unobstructed, and the staff, although saddled with defending a misguided policy, is accommodating and professional.

That same hotel staff, by the way, is generally mortified by the arrangement with Drai’s. One member told me, confidentially, she was sick of having to be “on the front lines” for Starwood’s greedy scheme. She said half her weekend was spent soothing the fury of rebuffed guests. She also complained about one drunk girl who, just the day before, had vomited in the designstudio-created lobby. “This isn’t Vegas,” the staffer astutely pointed out. “A lot of dedicated business travelers stay with us. They don’t want this.”

I have a sinking feeling this trend won’t be unusual in the future. People are making a lot of money off the W’s cynical elitism. It’s a short-sighted victory for Starwood, though, because such Vegas shenanigans will only turn off regular customers, and when the hotel’s It Factor goes off the boil, its alienated customer base won’t be likely to return.

Thanks to the travel industry’s ever-escalating addiction to extra fees and thirst for found money, greed is elbowing aside even the inclination to provide the simplest amenities.

Jim McPartlin, W Hollywood’s general manager, gave this non-apology for excluding guests from its pool:

“We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response we have received from guests since we opened our doors 2 months ago. With the opening of Drai’s Hollywood on 17th March, the interest in the hotel has increased beyond our wildest dreams, and as such we are having to limit guest access to the WET Deck and Drai’s…..we simply cannot keep up with the demand! We are aware that operationally this is causing problems for some of our guests and we are working very closely with our partners to come up with a solution that works for everyone.”

Update: The furor caused by our exposé caused the hotel to revise its policy. Click here for the story behind that, including an apology by McPartlin.